Technology has a tremendous impact on communication. A prime example of this was when Abraham Lincoln used the telegraph to transmit critical information from the frontline to the command center. As the telegraph was faster than any other existing means of communication during the American Civil War, this provided Lincoln with a great advantage over his adversaries.
Much like President Lincoln, those who are early to adopt new technology typically have a competitive advantage which allows them to stay ahead of their competition.
Conversely, failing to identify and adopt advancements in technology has had irreparable consequences for several well-established businesses. A recent example of this is Blockbuster, the once ubiquitous US video rental giant, who was overtaken by Netflix, a web-based movie rental service. While Blockbuster failed to recognize the influence of the Internet on the video entertainment industry, Netflix leveraged technology to provide its customers with a more personalized viewership experience, which allowed them to overtake Blockbuster and dominate its share of the market.
So, what is technology’s impact on the health and safety industry? Let’s take a moment to consider the most basic advantages of technology: it increases efficiency, ensures accuracy and improves the ease with which information is communicated. In the same vein, one of the biggest challenges facing the safety industry is ensuring an instantaneous and smooth transmission of accurate data between multiple work-sites, and from the field to the boardroom. Critical information needs to be communicated quickly to the right people in order for actions to be taken to proactively prevent incidents, and modern technology assists in this regard.
Here are the top five ways technology is changing the health and safety industry:
- Allowing Real-Time Data to Be Collected
The use of portable devices to capture complete data in real time is becoming increasingly important within the health and safety industry. In fact, studies show that 82% of contractors believe that the use of technology, like smartphones, on the field has a positive impact on safety performance. Using mobile devices, safety professionals can make the workplace significantly safer by capturing hazards, completing audits, and accessing training documents electronically and in real-time.
- Reducing Administrative Work and Creating Transparency
Electronic data transmission technology has also eliminated the need to physically transport paper data from the field to the data entry site. This reduces time spent on entering and processing the information for safety professionals, who can instead allocate time towards risk reducing activities. Digitizing data also makes the information more accessible, shareable, and actionable while also making the process more transparent.
- Making Safety Managers Responsible for Change Management
Incorporation of modern technology mostly implies a change in the way processes are conventionally undertaken. As technology continues to be part of the safety initiatives, EHS managers and professionals will have to become change managers as well. Even though technology today is made to be very user-friendly, research shows that there is an average of 70% failure rate of corporate change management initiatives. Here are four main reasons for the high failure rate of change management initiatives:
- Failure to Communicate the Importance of the Change: Initiatives for change, typically, result in anxiety for those involved. This results in behaviour that deprioritizes the operational components of these initiatives, thereby, increasing the chances of failure. To be able to face this challenge and gain the trust of the stakeholders, executives need to clearly communication why the change is important to their employees.
- Lack of Role Model: If the safety leader or authority figure in the organization is not actively leading by example, then employees will also lag in the initiative.
- No Incentive for Change: If initiatives for change lack reinforcement mechanisms, such as rewarding or celebrating people that are embracing the new process, then people will have no incentive to change their behavior and will not do so.
- Lack of Skilled Personnel: An older, less technologically savvy workforce may lack the skills necessary to easily adopt new technology. Therefore, it is critical that the organization continuously improves, adapts to scale, and understands where the gap in skills exist so that the necessary steps can be taken to acquire these skills.
- Making it Easier to Track Leading Indicators
With technology, the focus of health and safety professionals is changing from relying on lagging indicators to leading indicators. Lagging indicators are easy to measure but limited in their ability to help proactively prevent future incidents. Leading indicators, however, are typically harder to measure because they are activity and behavior-based. This is precisely why 80% of companies, in a study we conducted, indicated that they wanted to track leading indicators but only 15% of them were actually doing so. Modern technology, however, has made tracking leading indicators more feasible and can close the gap between those wanting to track leading indicators and those who are actually doing so.
- Increasing Transparency Throughout the Organization
Finally, the use of modern technology in health and safety is resulting in increased transparency of safety performance, which is helping to improve the overall safety culture of organizations. Relating back to Lincoln and his use of the telegraph, he did not just use it to communicate with his commanders, he also used the telegraph to communicate with the public, which created a tremendous amount of transparency and trust amongst the people during the war. This helped really improve his ability to get things done as a commander-in-chief.
Similarly, when Paul O’Neill, the CEO of the industrial giant Alcoa, stated that he will focus on making Alcoa the safest company in the US, he got severe flak from analysts who believed that such an undue shift in priorities would hurt the stock value of the company. O’Neill, however, was adamant in making health and safety a priority. He had a custom safety software program built to improve data and increase transparency. He also actively encouraged employees to engage in the process and demanded that management take employee participation and suggestions for safety seriously. This resulted in instilling a sense of ownership amongst the employees, who started to not only voice their concerns related to health and safety, but also about other operations, which resulted in an increase in the output of Alcoa’s plants.